Retaining teachers

Excellent NPR story on the problems of teacher retention.  Every year, nearly half of all teachers change schools or leave the profession and in a purely financial sense, that’s super costly.  It’s almost surely sub-optimal for our students as well.  Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of research about what retains teachers, but there is some.  And quite importantly, it very much validates what we know are features of the teaching profession in higher-performing countries.  As, I’ve written numerous times before, we need to value teachers as professionals.  That means more pay and more autonomy (autonomy is especially important to job satisfaction and a major reason I have such an awesome job).  It also means more collaboration and more meaningful mentoring.  Some key points from an interview with education researcher Richard Ingersoll:

What are some of the important factors driving the decision to stay or leave?

One of the main factors is the issue of voice, and having say, and being able to to have input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher’s job. This is something that is a hallmark of professions. It’s something that teachers usually have very little of, but it does vary across schools and it’s very highly correlated with the decision whether to stay or leave.

I’ve worked with these data a lot going back last couple of decades. Where nationally, large samples of teachers are asked, “How much say does the faculty collectively have?” And, “How much leeway do you have in your classroom over a series of issues?” It turns out both levels are really important for decisions whether to stay or to part. And what’s interesting about this finding [is that] this would not cost money to fix. This is an issue of management…

What can schools specifically do to address the problem of teacher turnover?

One growing genre of initiatives is the idea of supporting beginning teachers. Beginning teachers have the highest turnover rates. We generated data over a decade ago showing somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of those that go into teaching are gone within five years.

The term “induction” is often used for beginning teachers in the first couple of years. To help them learn the ropes and get better and survive. The percentage of teachers that get some kind of induction has doubled over the last couple of decades. So that’s one example of trying to pay attention to retention instead of just ignoring it.

And plenty more good stuff.  What’s really encouraging to me, is that more and more people seem to be figuring out what it really takes (i.e., not “accountability” based on student test scores) to improve teaching in America.  Of course, we’re a long way off from doing most of us, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the new generation of education reformers will eventually be moving us in the right direction.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to Retaining teachers

  1. John F. says:

    It makes me wonder about the characteristics of those teachers that make it through the first five years despite having limited autonomy? Are they the personality types that appreciate and encourage independence of thought in the children they instruct?

    • Steve Greene says:

      Yeah, I thought about that to. I fear that’s the case for a good number. I hope most of them are just frustrated, but take it because they love teaching kids so much.

  2. pino says:

    We generated data over a decade ago showing somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of those that go into teaching are gone within five years.

    I suspect that a vast majority of these teachers are experiencing their first professional job out of college. I wonder, for example, what a similar retention rate would be for college grads going to work for Amazon, or Citi or IBM.

    One of the main factors is the issue of voice, and having say, and being able to to have input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher’s job.

    As a professional myself I have to agree this is true. In fact, I prefer an interesting self guided job than I do a promotion; I would much rather be satisfied than make more money.

    It’s my hope that we could take the better and best teachers and give them roles that leverage their skills. Mentor teachers, true Departmental Chairs, dividing roles by skills – think taking the most dynamic lecturer and having her record her lectures and then couple the kids in small break out sessions with gifted individual teachers.

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